The Lord of The Rings and The Book of Job
One reason I like Tolkien’s mythology so much is its approach to the relationship between freedom and evil. Generally, when a Christian thinker is asked why evil occurs and is allowed to influence the world, the answer comes down to “freedom.” Tolkien, on the other hand, strongly associates compulsion and slavery with evil, and freedom with goodness and righteousness. Much better.
In the common view, people can’t be truly free unless they have a genuine opportunity to do evil as well as good. I don’t really understand this approach. It’s kind of like saying that you can’t freely choose between chicken and beef, unless poop-burgers are also offered. It’s not meant to be actually chosen; it’s just there to confirm your preference for edible and wholesome food.
That is not an explanation for why a whole world full of people are eating poop-burgers with relish. And mayonnaise.
For who goes to the trouble to make the poop burgers? Obviously, an enemy makes them, offers them, and goes to great lengths to trick diners into eating them. First, by disguising them as good meat. Then, calling them by attractive names. Then promising untold benefits from eating them. And finally, by making real meat progressively scarcer.
God doesn’t make poop-burgers and he doesn’t even put them on the menu. (And yes, I realize that is a grotesque and graceless sentence; beg pardon.) You may be wondering about the forbidden tree in the garden. It is not a poop-burger. It is good meat; it is simply forbidden to babies, as meat of course always is.
The idea that this envious, deceptive, ravaging perversion of human taste by a superhuman being is somehow part of the setup for a best-possible world is ridiculous. The idea that as a test it is fair to humans, and returns some kind of genuine insight into human nature and proclivity, is monstrous. Obviously the question of evil is not, why do people eat poop-burgers? At first they do it because they are babies and don’t know better. And later, they do it because, in a world where it’s almost impossible to get good food, people will eat what they can get. Of course, it’s foolish and offensive of people not to listen to God’s warnings. Yet, why did God temper his judgment, if not because of the role played by deception in the human fall?
So, in a world corrupted by Satan, in a generation laden with layers of trauma and ignorance and rage so deep that light can barely penetrate, it’s obvious that people will end up as sinners. No real surprise there. The surprise is when you occasionally have someone who goes the opposite direction.
Such a person will hardly be excessively submissive as a psychological trait. Such a person will rather be excessively willful, and will in some fashion learn the taste of real meat and how beneficial it is. He will persist in preferring it, no matter how much poop-burgers are forced upon him by authorities and peers.
The Bible doesn’t really support the free-will explanation of evil. For one thing, the term “free will” is never mentioned in scripture. It is a philosophical term. As Jonathan Edwards points out, it’s a redundant term; simply having a will is what makes one morally free, and the less morally free one is, the more inert his will becomes and the more he acts out the will of another instead of his own.
Christians, of course, are expected to follow God’s will submissively. Oh, wait – isn’t that Muslims? Yes, that’s right. The Christian God governs with an extremely light touch. Show me a Christian sect that believes God has revealed his will completely, clearly, and perfectly, and I’ll show you several dozen splinter sects 50 years later. The few instructions the Christian God does give are fairly obvious directions for human well-being. The Christian who strives to do God’s will is, in fact, undergoing a merciful course of treatment to learn the difference between chicken and poop nuggets.
So, what about evil and freedom?
Importantly, there’s all this biblical discussion of Satan’s role in the rise of evil on Earth, which definitely pushes back on the idea that human nature is the locus of evil. The biblical literature that most explicitly addresses this question is The Book of Job. (Pronounced with a long ‘O’.) Unambiguously, in Job the moral testing of human beings has very little to do with human beings – even though the human beings in the story are stubbornly convinced that it has everything to do with them. Instead, the real story is about the relationship between God and Satan.
You know it’s true; don’t bother squirming out of it.
When Job gets a glimpse of God’s greatness at the end of the story, it seems to dawn that perhaps it’s not all about him. He simply grasps the greatness of God compared to himself, and readjusts his assessment of the meaning of his experiences. Job has been asking a lot of intelligent questions until this point, but they have all been based on a anthropocentric moral Universe. This is why he is ashamed before God and finds nothing further to say, despite the fact that God does not offer an explanation.
Frankly, I doubt God would ever be so dim as to tell Job in the midst of his grief and pus, “I am allowing you to suffer in order to further the education of another of my creatures, a being to whom I’ve given a great deal of power, whose being is entangled with this world, and whom I love very much; but who, alas, has taken the ridiculous impression that I made a terrible mistake in creating human beings and introducing them to the world. He is threatening to destroy the whole place on the basis of this misapprehension, and I wanted to give him an opportunity to realize his mistake. I asked you to submit to this treatment in order to demonstrate to him, if there is any wisdom left in him to recognize it, that you humans are actually worthy of his respect and care. It doesn’t seem to have worked, but I plan to reward you amply for your very courteous cooperation in this difficult matter.”
Even if it’s the truth, it would make God the worst of Job’s comforters, and of course introduce a lot of ambiguity about how human beings should regard their enemy – for of course, God need not fear him; but to us he is as Martin Luther described him: “His wrath and power are great/ and armed with cruel hate/ on Earth is not his equal.”
Far more consoling is the moment of revelation, when Job grasps that there is something which is infinitely bigger than his own sufferings, and which is both entirely good and everlasting.
And since this is what consoles him in the end, it must console us as well – we who have been given the answer Job is not. Can we bear it that God should have chosen to countenance and permit Satan’s continued existence, presence, wholeness, and power among us? Do we wish, like Satan, that our enemy was snuffed out? Do we wish that God would have immediately judged him? Or that he would have retracted his gifts to him? Or that he would have imprisoned him forever from the first moment of his going astray, left no opportunity to experience his own existence, enjoy his nature, employ his gifts, and perhaps discover his faults?
I believe that when 19th century German thinkers envisioned a Christianity with no personal devil, it was among the greatest blows ever dealt by mankind to mankind. (Or was it dealt, really, by mankind?) Take Satan out of the equation, and there is no proper way to understand evil and suffering at all. God must go next, and did – because we cannot bear a God who is responsible for evil. We can hardly bear a God who suffers evil, as an alternative to committing it himself.
I imagine most of us since The Book of Job was written, in complete despite of everything it teaches us, have gone on imagining that God’s feeling toward Satan comprises the same furious and implacable rage that Satan’s feeling toward God does. And if he feels that way about Satan, he probably does about us, too. Most of us have gone on imagining that human suffering is some kind of punishment for human sin, meted out by God; rather than what Job shows us it actually is.
In Job, human suffering is the direct action of mankind’s cruel adversary, on account of his enmity toward man.
He takes this action, in Job, for two reasons.
Firstly, Satan hurts Job in an attempt to compel Job to curse God. Job has been showing a very marked determination to live a righteous, pious, and kindly life. Satan desires to force a change in Job’s will through suffering.
Similarly, human parents corrupted in various measures by Satan’s propaganda view their children’s waywardness as the indication of a deep flaw in their natures, to be corrected only through compulsion and through some measure of destruction, by the application of pain, distancing, fear, and humiliation. They believe that, in this, they are mimicking God’s approach to mankind. It is far more like Satan’s approach, actually.
Job himself is somewhat affected by this assumption. Only his personal knowledge of his own innocence saves him from saying exactly what his mistaken friends say: that God exercises complete and detailed control over everything that happens in the human world, and that in this function he invariably assures the righteous of wealth and plenty, and the evil of suffering and poverty. Job, trying to find another way to think about it which fits the data, wrongly assumes that when God has tried him, he will emerge from the furnace of suffering as purified gold. He assumes that some kind of impurity is being burned out of him by the flame of pain. This, by the way, is the view taken by most religious people through history – even some who wrote parts of the Bible.
In fact, it is the other way around. The suffering they endure together corrupts the character of Job’s wife, a lesser soul. It becomes the occasion for his friends to unknowingly blaspheme God, for which friends Job must later act as priest. And the whole point of it is to corrupt Job – which, given enough time, it might actually do. It is not God who would rather man fall into evil than remain in innocence untested. It is Satan who so wills. Unless mankind is subjected to every possible test, Satan, like any conspiracy theorist, remains convinced that man’s blessed state is an offence to justice, because undeserved.
So to sum up: in Job, pain is caused by the act of Satan, not the act of God; and its tendency is to morally corrupt, not to morally purify.
Secondly, Satan does it to prove to God that humans are bad. Rather than seeing himself as evil, Satan believes that he has found out God in a mistake and that he himself is defending the right. Even the best of humans only do good for material gain, in Satan’s view.
At the end of The Book of Job, Satan never acknowledges that Job has passed the test. God does not allow Satan to kill Job, so Satan goes AWOL, most likely believing that the test wasn’t fair after all, and that Job was lying and puffing himself up when he said, “Though he slays me, yet shall I trust in him.”
But why does Satan work so hard to prove to God that the best man of his generation is only righteous for the sake of wealth, food, and progeny? Elsewhere, the scriptures tell us that Satan is full of envy and that through this envy, he led mankind astray and subjected us to death. But who is Satan envious of?
It is easy to assume, as Milton does, that Satan is envious of God himself. “Better to rule in Hell than to serve in Heaven.” In this assessment, Satan himself is originally corrupted through the desire to “be like the Most High” by taking God’s place in Heaven.
Again, I find this silly. It assumes that Satan is unaware God created him, and unaware of the impassible gulf between created and uncreated. This certainly is not how we see him behaving in The Book of Job, where he is elaborately polite to God, behaving like a courtier. And it doesn’t reflect James’ insight that the demons all believe in God and tremble before him.
It’s far more likely that Satan is envious of human beings; thus, his inimical actions are directed against them, even while he still tries to defend his position before the throne of God, using an object lesson to show God how wrong the ruler of Heaven is about Man.
If we assume, then, that Satan is envious of human beings, it becomes much clearer why he goes to such pains to prove that Job is a secret materialist.
Satan despises gross matter, believing that he himself, as a spiritual being, is far superior to physical creatures. Man’ physicality is his weakness, in Satan’s view; and the tests are there to prove the design flaw.
Satan was probably given some form of guardianship or rulership of Earth, by God, in the beginning, since he see himself as the rightful ruler of it, and since God takes reports from him on his activities in Earth. Satan’s desire to be like the Most High, then, is not a desire to rule either in Heaven or in Hell. Instead, it is a desire to rule on Earth, and to have it for his own little Heaven, made according to his own will as Heaven is made according to God’s will. In order to have this, he likely believes, he must demonstrate his freedom by doing things differently to God. As we will see, Tolkien’s presentation of his diabolical character Morgoth follows this pattern closely.
Satan’s introduction of grotesqueries, harshness, and destruction to this would-be paradise is certainly odd. We’ll get to Tolkien’s explanation for his myth’s corresponding parts in a bit. At the moment I simply want to note that such behavior is at least consistent with a ruler’s contempt for those he rules. He engages in science experiments, perhaps based on survival of the fiercest, rather than in careful cultivation of nature as given. His art is modern art; all insistence that nothing is ugly and only innovation is interesting.
That being the case, Satan is likely incensed at the creation of Man. A being whose substance is material, like an animal, now has spiritual substance breathed into him and is given dominion over the lower animals. Satan is territorial. He is jealous of his own prerogative to rule Earth, and envious of man’s place in the world he considers to be his. He considers man unfit for the job, and he is disgusted by God’s willingness to hold close personal communion with man, despite his lowliness and, in Satan’s view, beastliness.
All Satan’s temptations and attempts to control man, then, are really an ongoing protest and rebellion against God’s favoring of man while passing over Satan.
Here, to depart from the putative timeline of the biblical mythology a bit, we may speculate that Satan’s governance of the world may not have been entirely to God’s liking, and that the introduction of man to the Earth was based on an intention to give the Earth a ruler which would have a family connection to its inhabitants, to understand and do right by them. Thus, (returning to that mythology) God’s first experiment with Adam is to see what he will name the animals – what kind of understanding of them he will demonstrate. (This experiment doesn’t make much sense in the truncated version we see in Genesis, in which Adam has just awoken from non-being moments before; it does make sense in the context of an Old Earth already populated by humans-without-spirit, from which one has been selected, removed to a specially-made paradise, invested with spirituality, and made the positional firstborn of the human race and of creation. As Adam goes, so now shall all mankind go.)
Only after this naming of the animals goes well does God introduce a mate to Adam, opening up the possibility of progeny. Thus it would appear to be some kind of test of man’s fitness for his position. Once God gives the man and the woman to one another, he tells them clearly what their mission is. They are to populate the Earth with their own progeny, who will be spiritual and intellectual yet related to the animals like themselves, and to rule over it.
This bit about man ruling over the Earth will probably have set Satan off. And indeed, given the scripture which reveals that Jesus was the lamb sacrificed before the foundation of the world, it is likely that God always intended for Man to be a check on Lucifer, to challenge his ideas, correct his goings-astray, and make up for his pitilessness. The possibility, then, is that The Book of Job has the real answer; the big answer. Perhaps Man from the moment of his birth is in the middle of a drama that is not primarily about him. He was created first and foremost for the correction of Lucifer, and secondly to redeem the Earth from Lucifer’s mistakes. Only later does he become central. As such, God places man in a difficult position from the beginning – a babe in a nursery already invaded by a serpent; a lamb in a pasture already containing a wolf. Man is a sacrifice; but a sacrifice to the purposes of the God of Life, not the god of death.
Given the gift of being and life, Man is simultaneously asked to cooperate in a painful and self-giving process he doesn’t well understand, in which all the pain comes from his Enemy, and all the patience is asked by his Friend. God himself enters into the process and bears the brunt of the burden.
Based on Jesus’ statement about Satan being cast out of Heaven like a lightning bolt, it seems that sometime within human history, Satan lost the sort of privileges that he is pictured as having in The Book of Job. At some point, God may have ended Satan’s period of sufferance, or probation, and moved to a focus on repairing the condition of human beings. As St. Athanasius so poignantly puts it, if a king sees some city of his possessed by his enemy, his sense of justice will desire, not that the city will be destroyed with his enemy inside, but rather that the city be returned to him and receive him again as king. Like the mother who would rather give her child to a stranger than see it cut in two, so God would rather leave the human race temporarily in the condition determined by Satan’s captivity of it, rather than destroy both together. Yet God is not only the mother; he is also Solomon and he will take the baby and deliver it into his own perfect care at last.
It does seem that strict justice is what Satan hoped would be given to man. If the action of Satan towards Job can be used as a template to understand his action towards Eve in Eden, it is likely that Satan did not view himself as committing sin or introducing evil into the world at that time. Death, extremity, and destruction already had a deeply-rooted position in the world outside Eden; likely Satan felt that it was all in service of some great Evolutionary goal and was, furthermore, being practiced on creatures who had no right to complain. Rather, his actions toward Job are likely a continuation of the project he began in the case of Eve. Believing, on the basis of God’s warning to Adam and Even, that God will immediately destroy his budding new creative project if it goes wrong, he simply approaches the naive woman with a little subtlety, and easily proves to God what an imperfect and improper creation man really is.
By giving the gift of spirit to a creature so unfinished, so open-ended, and so subject to limitation, Satan feels that God has all but invited disobedience. He demonstrates the fact. As god of the world, Satan deeply disapproves of disobedience, however ready he is to tolerate the forms of evil that humans abominate; namely, that which causes suffering.
Expecting the blow to fall immediately, Satan hangs about waiting to see it. Instead, God traps him within the snake he has possessed and compels him to leave the garden, living within a crawling, meat-eating creature until it dies, upon a world marred by his own pitiless projects. Perhaps it is an opportunity to gain some perspective on the compassion deserved by more limited creatures; as well as a sort of disciplinary action with a lot of poetic justice to it.
The first coming of Christ marks another step in the development of relations between God and Satan, as well as between God and human beings. As Satan tells St. Anthony, “since that Man did what he did, I have been exiled to the wilderness and I have not been able to build anything fair.”
What has Satan been trying to build that was so fair – so beautiful and good? I connect to this question the temptation of Jesus, when Satan shows him all the kingdoms of the world and offers to give him them, so long as he recognizes Satan as being the rightful god of the world, and doesn’t try to usurp his power and authority. Satan, apparently, has been building human cultures.
Rather than seeing himself as the progenitor and purveyor of evil, then, Satan probably sees himself as the defender of an alternative Morality which God, the one with all the power, must be made to understand and see. This alternative Morality is all straight lines and equality and hierarchy and rights and the meting out of carefully weighed punishments. Nothing must let be; they must be forced into the proper patterns. Freedom is evil, because it allows for evil; mercy is evil, because it fails to return evil for evil despite the manifest even-handedness of such treatment.
Having subjected humanity to his will, and led it captive to (eventual) death, Satan has by the time of Christ made some kind of compromise with his original project to have the human race snuffed out at once. While going on in the same general vein, he also engages in constant activity tending to return mankind to the pre-Edenic condition in which he feels they should have been left: simple, animal, submissive, definitely in awe of spiritual beings; a bit clever perhaps, but in no way offering any competition to his vision of things. Their spiritual side is muted but persists; he satisfies it as much as needs be, without allow too much hope to get through.
Jesus responds to this temptation by invoking the higher authority of God Most High, a move that is somewhat ambiguous, since it refuses what Satan asks but also avoids revealing to Satan whether Jesus knows who and what he is. Perhaps Satan, in inspiring Jesus’ enemies with his own envy, hopes to end the Master’s life before he awakens to his own divinity and seizes power over the world. Jesus’ approaching rescue mission of the human dead, and his taking over of Adam’s position as firstborn, representative, and spiritual father of the human race – all this appears to have been hidden from Satan: a secret mission by God to retake lost territory from within.
And so we see that Satan’s true effort toward man is not to give him freedom, but to end his freedom.
Tolkien shows a similar picture. In The Silmarillion, the diabolical figure of Morgoth is infested with a passion, first simply to make something truly original and different and all his own; and second, when he is balked in this, to subject all things to his will.
This deep desire provokes him to change the original design of everything within the world, frustrating the intentions of his fellow subordinate creators. He is always trying to innovate, to find new and interesting and experimental figurations of matter that are dissonant from what is already given, and to stand apart from his fellows. In truth, he is only able to alter what he finds – it is his vanity to think he can come up with anything truly new. In the process he generates monsters and pests among the beasts, and he causes extremity and overgrowth. While there is a terrifying beauty to some of these creations – as in volcanoes and ice – it is a borrowed beauty. Only the terror is truly his.
I do not find it wholly unlikely that the monsters and disasters within the pre-human history of our own Earth may be attributable to some like cause. It may even be that the paradise of Eden was necessary not only to give the humans a good start, but in order to sequester the newly-made spiritual beings from a world that was already subjected to hardship and grotesquery. In this case, God’s pronouncements of the curse upon Adam and Eve at their expulsion from Eden is simply a description of what life will be like for them in the world outside. “Dust you are; to dust you return,” is a fair and dreadful description, if we understand that “dust” is “gross materiality.” This would indeed have been experienced as an immediate death, since the humans would have lost touch with the greater part of their own spiritual beings (a condition, alas, in which we largely persist today.)
Now, also, people who gain a little intellectual or spiritual awareness quickly begin to suffer agonies as they perceive what kind of world they are really living in, and how ill-suited it is to their true natures. It is at this moment that questions about the origin of evil are most likely to arise – before, however, people are really ready to deal with it. Again and again, Satan feeds the forbidden fruit to babes, leading them into despair and death.
So death, as St. Paul says, enters the world through the sin of Adam; but this may be true literally only when we understand “the world” to be “the moral environment of human beings.”
In LOTR, when “the children of Illuvatar,” or humans, dwarves, and elves, are created later in Middle-Earth’s history, Morgoth finds a new extension of his passion for originality. It is one thing to subject the creative projects of his fellow Valar to his will. These inanimate and vegetative creations resist only passively; their given nature is both his challenge and the parameters for change. But other wills resist him actively.
The frustration he feels when his fellow Valar, the elves, and later men, resist his will is what leads to his final moral fall, which eventually is so deep that he cannot realistically be expected ever to crawl up out of it. From that time onward, his great project is to capture other wills and subject them to his own.
This is a new and more difficult challenge. Wills are not like walls. You cannot simply break them. You must bend them, influence them, and enslave them; they must continue to move in some measure, however helpless they are to change direction; otherwise they cease altogether to be, and you have conquered nothing.
The magic ring of The Hobbit becomes the Ring of Power in The Lord of The Rings and The Silmarillion. It is the ring of power because Morgoth’s disciple Sauron uses it to control others. Tolkien, it’s clear from his letters, means “power” to be a straightforward indication of the symbolism of the ring. For him, the desire to control others, to control nature, to control circumstance – in short, to accrue power beyond what nature gives us – this is the black pearl rolled obsessively about in the bivalve jaws of hungry evil.
The black riders, in LOTR, are human beings who are unable to choose anything except what their wicked master would have them choose. They are in a state of almost perfect unfreedom, of near willessness.
Theoden, beguiled by Wormtongue his ostensible servant, provides a less extreme and closer look at such a condition. He gradually loses his freedom through giving in again and again to the passions of suspicion and jealousy, presented through clever words.
Tolkien shows us that, like monsters and mosquitoes are corruptions of beasts, so evil choices are not equal to good choices. Instead, they are a diminishment of the gift of freedom – a compulsion toward something which, if the person should wake and see clearly for a moment and find his strength, he would throw off.
Freedom, then, is the power to respond actively to the qualities of objects; the power of feeling and acting upon the characteristics of what we perceive around us. It is the power to perceptibly feel the attraction of what is worthy of us, and to incline toward it actively; rather than passively to be attracted, like magnets. Freedom is necessary for goodness, but not for evil.
Evil is perfectly content with unfree companions and followers – with control and compulsion – with the diminished power to incline only in one direction forever, helplessly, against one’s own interests. Healthy wills are always allied with their owners’ affections, well-being, and good judgment. They are also aligned with the reality of the objects their owners behold. Healthy wills are part of the composition of healthy beings. They flow freely because, within the environment of their owner’s spiritual beings, those wills are unchecked by poor sight, understanding, feeling, or judgment; or by weakness and sluggishness of their own.
Thus Satan himself, obsessively willing what was once good for him – willing willing itself, perhaps – is not free, however greatly he longs to have his way. His will is no longer a responsive instrument of his spiritual nature, enabling him to respond sanely and heartily and really to other beings. It is bound fast to one object, whether it is good or not; whether it helps him or not; whether he can have it or not.
It is strange, then, that Christian thinkers should go on acting and talking as if freedom is the explanation for evil, as if goodness can come in through compulsion and pain.
Someone will object that Christ brought us freedom through his suffering. True; but that is a paradox. Nor, when we examine the case, is the pain itself productive of good. (“Suffering” as “endurance of pain for the sake of something good” is the proper meaning.)
Instead, the pain inflicted on Jesus is the wicked action of Satan against the best human being ever to live, and was turned by God’s wisdom and forethought into a stratagem for the enemy’s frustration. By undergoing it, Jesus allows Satan to overextend himself, introducing Jesus into an experience which he cannot personally enter in any other manner: human death.
Unlike in the case of Job, the ruler of Heaven allows Satan to take Jesus’ life, standing silently aside while Jesus screams in anguish, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?”
Why he is dying, Jesus does not appear to know. Having laid aside his divine mode of existence, he enters the world without any grasp of the plan. His test is to follow God’s will without understanding it. Satan cannot gain any information on the divine secret from Jesus. Up till now it has been held so secret that even the angels have become deeply curious; mankind has been given hope of it only in picturesque and dark myth and prophecy. Even so, the end of all things is figured for us now, though many among us pretend to know each turn of the plot beforehand.
The Teacher gains knowledge at some point, through his prophetic gift and superior understanding of scripture, that it is God’s will for him to go to Jerusalem, allow himself to be taken into custody by weak and envious men, forgo his prerogative to call for angelic aid, be humiliated and tortured, and ultimately die publicly and in great pain. He accepts this. At some point he begins to feel an impatience and pressure to get on with it; then he is swamped by dread upon the point of it.
In order to make it happen, he does not need to commit suicide, which would be wrong for him as a human being. He only has to do what every one of us knows better than to try in the current order of things: to behave with a goodness that rebukes the powerful; and always to tell the truth when powerful people do not want to hear it.
Satan is about to realize that he’s made quite a strategic mistake. Jesus has been entirely meek, in a certain sense, while he lived on Earth. He has borne patiently all the hunger, indignity, wounding, grossness, and misunderstanding that makes human life so wretched. He has lived the way Satan has arranged for human beings to live, much to that envious principality’s satisfaction. He has not tried at all to get out of it. He has even adopted the lifestyle of the poorest and least loved of men.
This has all been pleasant for Satan, who likes to rub the noses of human beings into their helplessness before the limitations of matter. Less satisfactory, of course, has been Jesus’ growing tendency to whisk other human beings out of various Satanic nooses and traps – sin, suffering, death. It has all been temporary so far, but of course it can’t be allowed to go on. Jesus’ frightening, stubborn, and, to Satan, unhuman tendency to forgo material comfort in search of the divine presence is also dangerous.
Jesus is gratifyingly helpless in the grip of the terrible death Satan has arranged for him.
Now, however, having descended into the place of the dead, Jesus changes his tack. In the midst of Satan’s most prized treasure-casket – the place where human spirits lie dishonored, kept from the ordinary existence of spiritual creatures, pinned to the Earth where their animals natures originated – here, Jesus is suddenly most uncooperative.
And suddenly, he has that authority. For in one sense only, he was never meek on Earth. He never allowed his will to be enslaved to Satan.
On what basis is Satan captor of the human dead? Isn’t it simply that each new human person, deeply affected by the communion of shared nature, is born into the condition of his parents and follows them into the traps of the enemy?
Satan has worked long and hard to stamp out all God’s explicit efforts to regain humanity as his own. He feels pride in all that he has accomplished, and he feels bolstered by the weakness and persecution of God’s people. He has, however, neglected to pay sufficient attention to a long, impoverished, dishonored line of Hebrew law-keepers, and the flower of their lineage, a young lady who followed her parents in the opposite direction.
Satan has also has underestimated her humble, patient, meek, and obedient Son. No trap did he ever trip. No whit has he ever surrendered his will, which has always homed true, whole and strong to whatever was best. The foretold death has been died; it is finished. And it is impossible that Jesus should not be accepted by God as the new Adam, the new Firstborn, the new representative of humanity before him. As Jesus goes, all mankind shall henceforth go.
What is there now to hold him? To hold any of them?
Only their long habit of unwill.
First comes a brief joyous all-powerful bursting of bonds; then come several centuries of Christian disdain for the slavery of materialism and self-indulgence and sluggishness; then comes the quick toppling of Satan’s kingdoms, and the giving over of nation and tribe to the invisible King of Kings. It goes on for nearly a thousand years; Satan might as well have been thrown into a bottomless pit for a millennium.
Only, somewhere in the Middle East, in the 7th century from Christ, a murderous madman goes into a cave a fugitive, and comes out a Prophet. Now he begins: establishing among a barbarian nation a vicious and merciless Morality, theocratic and scripture-centered like Christianity and Judaism; gaining power by the slaughter of innocents – for to his insanely frustrated master, no human being is innocent, ever.
By the time the millennium turns, the Prophet’s people are sweeping the world with taxes and terror and rape and slaughter, enslaving Christendom and Jewry and massacring pagandom, throne after throne.
The Third Act has begun.
And what are we told is the purpose of letting Satan out on this latest leash? To test the nations a little while, forsooth! He’s still at it; and God is still suffering him. This is quite a story, folks; and it cannot be understood at all on conventional religious assumptions.